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Bound forms

Bound forms are morphemes or morpheme combinations that do not occur by themselves as words. Affixes are obviously bound forms, as they have to attach to a stem, and cannot be used as words by themselves. There are also bound forms that do not qualify as affixes, and they combine with affixes or with other bound morphemes to form words. For example, the adjectiveteologies theological can be decomposed into the bound morphemes teo-god and -log-science, plus the adjectival suffix –ies.

Bound forms are mainly found in neoclassical word-formation, but they also occur in words of the Germanic stratum of Afrikaans. For instance, the bound form -geet is a constituent of the verb stem vergeet forget, and in the adjective dierbaar dear, precious we find the bound form dier-. Such Germanic bound forms were words in an earlier stage of Dutch, but they only survived in Dutch and Afrikaans in the complex words of which they form a part.

Bound forms may also arise through abbreviation. This applies, for instance, to the bound form euro- (from EuropaEurope), as in Europarlement European parliament, and the bound form –gatepolitical scandal (from Watergate), as in Guptagate Gupta-scandal.


Many bound forms are found in words borrowed from Greek or from Romance languages, or else they are created through neo-classical word-formation. For instance, the word militêr military, borrowed from Latin via French, contains the stem milit- and the suffix –êr that creates nouns or adjectives. In the Germanic stratum of the Afrikaans and Dutch lexicon we find such bound forms due to the disappearance of the base word, which is only preserved in its derivative forms. For instance, the following adjectives ending in –lik contain a bound form: vrolik cheerful, billik reasonable, olik roguish, deeglik reliable, skielik swift, andmoeilik difficult. Many verbs prefixed with be- or ver- have a bound form as base, for instance beaam endorse, bedaar calm down, verdwyn disappear, verbruik consume, and verloor lose.

The notion bound form is not identical to the notion bound morpheme, as bound forms may contain more than one constituent. For instance, the word demonstrateurprotester contains the bound form demonstr- which might be further decomposed into the constituents de- and -monstr-. Hence, it is a bound form with two morphemes. Similarly, in reduseerreduce we have a bound form redus- that consists of the constituents re- and -dus-. Bound forms that are not affixes and that cannot be further decomposed into constituent morphemes are often referred to as roots (Dutch and Afrikaans: wortels).

Bound forms can form families. See, for example, the recurrent use of demonstr- in demonstreerdemonstrate, demonstrateurdemonstrant, protester, and demonstrasiedemonstration. Such patterns can be described in terms of paradigmatic relations between various word-formation schemas, in this case the correspondence between words of the following forms (here, x = demonstr-):

  • [[x](root)[eer](VBZ)](V)
  • [[x](root)[at](LK)[eur](NMLZ)](N)
  • [[x](root)[asie](NMLZ)](N)

The resulting words share a meaning component that can be related to the bound form demonstr-. However, this form has no meaning by itself, its meaning is only accessible through the words that it is part of. Similarly, we recognize a common bound form gimnas- in the word gimnasiumgymnasium, gimnasias gymnasium pupil and gimnasiaal relating to gymnasiums. We might say that the latter two words of this series of paradigmatically related words have been formed by replacing the final part –(i)um of gimnasium by the suffixes –as and –aal respectively, through affix substitution.

The internal constituency of words with bound forms plays a role in their morphological behaviour. For instance, the verb kommunikeer communicate contains the bound form kommunik- and the suffix –eer. The internal structure manifests itself in the way its corresponding deverbal noun is created, i.e. by replacing –eer by –asie: kommunikasiecommunication. Therefore, we call the verb kommunikeer a formally complex verb. In the adjective logieslogical we observe the internal structure [[log](root)[ies](ADJZ)](A), as the presence of the adjectival suffix –ies predicts that this word is an adjective. Similarly, we have to analyse the verb vergeet forget as a prefixed verb, despite the lack of a verb *geet. The reason is that vergeet behaves as a prefixed verb with respect to the formation of its past participle, which is vergeet, not *gevergeet, as would be expected if the syllable /fər/ had no prefix status. We therefore have to consider vergeet as a formally complex verb.

Bound forms may be used productively to create new words. For instance, the bound form retro-back can combine with the bound form –spektief in retrospektief retrospective, and with the word pop pop music in retropopretro pop. In a number of cases, the resulting complex word consists only of bound forms. Productively used bound forms are called confixes or combining formsRetro- is called an initial combining form as it behaves like a prefix, just like chemo- in chemoterapie chemotherapy. The bound form -logies is a final combining form, as it appears only at the end of words, as in psigologies psychological and karakterologiescharacterological. In a word like tegnofobietechnophobia, the combining form tegno- and the word fobiephobia (originally a bound form, which has acquired word status) are combined. In tegnopolistechnopolis, we see a combination of two bound forms.

The demarcation of non-native affixes and combining forms is a topic of debate. For instance, the morpheme turbo in turbo-enjin turbo engen might be considered either as a prefix or as an initial combining form. The same goes for morphemes like pseudo-, mikro-, mono-, neo- and semi- that are used both in Afrikaans, Dutch and English (however, with spelling differences). The reason for considering them bound forms is that their meaning is more lexical in nature, quite similar to that of words, whereas affixes are considered to have a more abstract meaning.

Bound forms in the native lexicon are forms such as –name, a deverbal nominalization of neem to take, and –ganger, an agent noun derived from the verb gaanto go. These forms appear in various compounds, but do not occur as words by themselves: aannameassumption, opname recording; kerkganger churchgoer, vakansieganger holidaymaker.

Words may have bound meanings as well. For instance, the word ere honour (an archaic form of eerhonour) has acquired the meaning honorary as a left constituent of compounds, and the word hoof head can have the meaning main in compounds, as in hoofprobleem main problem. The term affixoid is used to refer to this use of words with bound meanings.

For further reading, consider Meesters (2004), Booij (2010), De Belder (2011), Kempen 1982), and Combrink (1990).

  • Belder, Marijke de2011Roots and Affixes: Eliminating lexical categories from syntaxUtrechtThesis
  • Meesters, Gert2004Marginale morfologie in het Nederlands. Paradigmatische samenstellingen, neo-klassieke composita en splintercompositaGentKoninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde
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